Learning a second language as a child offers many advantages, from cognitive development to more career opportunities. There are so many benefits to being bilingual that it’s difficult to pick just a few but we’ve given it a try.
Here are our top 10 reasons your child should learn another language
Helps the brain develop
Young brains are more flexible, which is known as brain plasticity, which is great for learning – the more the brain can adapt and change, the more we can learn. It turns out that learning a new language as a child really helps with brain plasticity, even if they haven’t spoken the language. Just hearing it helped boost the flexibility of their brains, as these studies show.
Helps us sort information in our brains
When we increase the information in our brains, we need to be able to file and sort that information so we can find it again quickly when we need it. The mental structures that we use to organise knowledge are known as schema. As cognitive processes go, these schemas are vital for everything from memory, understanding others, problem-solving and critical thinking. When we speak another language, we become adept at categorising and accessing information quickly – a great benefit of being bilingual. Check out our guest blogger Rosie Byrnes’ blog on bilingualism and the brain for more on this!
Improve problem solving, critical thinking and other cognitive skills
From self-awareness and non-verbal working memory to self-motivation and problem solving, executive function covers a crucial set of mental skills. Young, bilingual children have to use the right language at the right time, and this improves their brain’s ability to adapt. Their brains become accustomed to looking for different solutions that consider context, a key element of problem solving.
The brain isn’t actually a muscle, but it often behaves like one and the benefits of languages don’t stop there. One study into language learning showed just how useful simple exposure to another language is in helping the brain to become more flexible and adaptable.
Here’s a useful list of evidence that early language learning improves cognitive abilities.
Learning another language helps children learn more about the building blocks of language; grammar, sentence structures – the tricky stuff! It also means that children are good at recognising the sounds that belong to specific letters and words (phonological awareness), which is key for literacy.
Self-control is a good indicator of academic success and research has shown that bilingual children tend to have higher self-control. Switching between languages is what’s thought to help. Bilingual brains have to switch one language off and turn the other on, so to speak. The control that this requires is useful for all sorts of things, from paying attention to critical thinking.
Seriously, there are so many benefits to learning a language.
More grey matter = better exam results
The benefits on brain plasticity, memory, literacy and overall brain development have been shown to help with exam results too. In fact, one study showed that bilingual children literally have more grey matter. Of the top 10 benefits of being bilingual, this is a good one!
Learning a sense of self is very important in the first few years of a child’s life. Then, after the age of three, we need to start building a sense of ‘other’. This is what helps us to understand other people and how we may affect them. Again, being bilingual is thought to give children an edge. Some studies have shown that learning an additional language helps children become more aware of different perspectives, which helps to build empathy.
There are many more benefits to being bilingual if you want to delve deeper…
Insurance for their future-brain and better resilience
Being bilingual protects the brain against cognitive decline for longer. In a 5 year study, 158 patients with cognitive impairment were analysed, and the study found that bilingual people have higher cognitive reserve than monolingual people. Cognitive reserve is thought to help us age more slowly and also helps us become more resilient as people. In short, the benefits of learning a new language as a child last for the rest of our lives.
Better career opportunities
The world is changing rapidly, especially during this current crisis. As unemployment figures grow and economies around the world shrink, it’s becoming very clear that our children face an uncertain future. The ability to communicate in more than one language will become even more valuable in future. If your child is up against 5 other people with the same skills in future, but he or she has the added benefit of being bilingual, that gives them a competitive edge.
It’s important for the future
This we feel really passionate about. Education is vital because we need the children in schools now to be able to come up with solutions for the problems that they will face in the future. We learn more when we work together, and collaboration shouldn’t stop at land borders, not when we have technology to connect us all. The world is becoming more and more globalised, and we face more global challenges. We’ll need to work together across cultures, religions and nationalities and for that, we need empathy, we need to be able to think critically and we need to be able to adapt quickly to new situations. All the skills that learning a second language helps to foster will be needed in order to come up with innovative solutions to problems like climate change, pandemics, poverty and inequality so that we all have a better future.
Try these super-quick tips for raising your kids to be bilingual
In a lot of ways, being bilingual is like having a super-power. Try some of our easy, practical tips for everyday language practice to help your child become bilingual…
- The kitchen is an excellent place to try your new language skills out. Here are 6 ways your child can practice a new language in the kitchen!
- Where we play is packed with things children can use to practice their new skills on. What colour are their toys, how many do they have, what are the animals? So many ways to boost retention!
- Vocabulary is important but lists aren’t usually the most interesting or engaging tool to use (notice the use of the word usually!). Here are 15 ways to transform learning vocab into something fun for kids.
- Worried about screen-time? Here are some ways to balance and manage it.